First time in Paris: touring by Vélib bicycle

On a Vélib outside of Le Jardins des Plantes
On a Vélib outside of Le Jardins des Plantes, 5ème arrondissement

My first solo trip outside of North America was to Paris. Like a lot of people on the North Atlantic side of the pond, it was a city I had dreamed of visiting my entire life. When I finally got there, it met and exceeded every expectation, including the wild delight of riding around Paris on a bicycle. Touring Paris on a Vélib bike is easy, cheap, and in my opinion, not optional.

From my Paris travel journal

My day driving around on a bike was easily one of the best days of my life.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

On the way out of Père Lachaise cemetery, I found a Vélib bike station with loads of bikes. Getting a one-day card was a bit of a trial, but having the chip card eventually paid off and I was out on the bike lanes of Paris.

My first bike was panné, but the second one was at least operational. I set off on a wild, mostly illegal, trip through the 20th, 11th, and 12th arrondisements, finally ending up in the 5th along the Seine.

It was my first time on a non-gym bike in years, and both terrifying and exhilarating. Powering along bike lanes, some sidewalks, and occasionally going the wrong way on a one-way street, I rode along with other tourists and a particularly foul-mouthed house painter wearing a beret and smoking while riding his bike.

My trip took me from Père Lachaise to the Jardin des Plantes, back and forth across the Seine several times, past Notre-Dame and ending up at La Musée du quai Branly, focusing on indigenous art and culture in Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Once it got dark, I hung around the Eiffel Tower for the hourly light show before parking for the night and heading back to my hotel in Montmartre on the Métro.

Using Vélib

For visitors, the easiest way to enjoy Paris on two wheels is to buy a one-day Vélib pass at any nearby Vélib station. You’ll need a credit card with a chip-and-PIN (Canadians should be fine). P1050522

Follow the instructions and keep your ticket number in a safe place.

If you’re a relatively confident cyclist or adventurous person, Vélib is probably the best transportation deal in the city. The one-day ticket is €1,70 (August 2015) and the first 30 minutes of any trip is freeThis means you can bike short hops across the city all day, so long as you stay within that 30-minute window. After that, the next 30 minutes of a single trip is €1 and it escalates from there.

Paris is mostly flat, except for Montmartre, so the riding is pretty easy. There is an impressive network of bike lanes for extra safety, and bike use is very, very common, like you’d expect it to be.

Paris is a city meant to be explored, leisurely and with great enthusiasm. Stay alert, stay in your lane, and pretend you’re Parisian for the day, 30 minutes at a time.

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